Is The Transgender Persons Bill In India Violating The Rights Of Trans Individuals?

Being a female-bodied person, and a fairly privileged one at that, I have never understood the hullabaloo surrounding Section 377. I walked the pride march in Mumbai this year knowing full well that a lot of queer people experienced immense relief after Section 377 was partially read down. But I have experienced a disconnect with the whole mobilisation around it. The invisibilisation of lesbian, bisexual, and trans (LBT) queer connections, although frustrating, means that this regressive law of the Indian Penal Code didn’t penalise same-sex activity between women the way it did with men. I am of the opinion that it reduces the queer community to just the sex they have (or don’t). This is problematic because queer individuals are so much more than their sexual orientation. They are fabulous, flawed beings with multiple (often contradictory) identities. They negotiate with the hetero-patriarchal, cis-brahminical hegemony at several levels and one must take into account all of this, instead of associating them with the nature of their sexual activity.

Human Rights Watch Identifies Gaps In Transgender Persons Bill

Although I am glad that Section 377 became a common platform that has managed to enrage and unite queer communities across the country, who then came together to protest the law and show unabashed resistance; it is problematic when it becomes the be-all and end-all of the issues that concern anyone who is queer. To a large extent, MSM (males who have sex with males) individuals have already entered juridical registers of citizenship because of the HIV health crisis. But there are others in the LGBTQIA+ community who are struggling with questions of citizenship and surveillance.

How is it that the queer community is not uniting as a minority (albeit, not a minuscule one) to condemn injustices being committed against trans queer folk, Muslim queer folk, Kashmiri queer folk, Dalit queer folk, Adivasi queer folk? This selective empathy both baffles and angers me. For instance, I don’t see enough discussion around the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2019, which apart from its ironic nomenclature, aims to commit a gross violation of the rights of trans individuals such as self-determination (which was guaranteed by the Supreme Court in its landmark NALSA judgment), equality (by punishing violence against trans women with shorter prison sentences) and equal access to educational and employment spaces (by not talking about affirmative action).

According to Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch “The Transgender Persons Bill should be a remarkable achievement for a long-persecuted community, but the current draft fails on the fundamental right to self-identify. It’s crucial that the law be in line with the Supreme Court’s historic ruling on transgender rights.”

How is it that people are not enraged by this Bill? How is it that there isn’t enough media coverage about this? The same reporters who use stock photos of a pride flag or two same-sex individuals holding hands, when writing about Section 377, why aren’t they rightly recognising this Bill as something that will set the queer movement (in India) back by decades? The Transgender Persons Bill 2019 merely scratches the surface of all the un-freedoms (Surrogacy Regulation Bill and the National Register of Citizens are two more examples) that have been imposed on the queer community by this government. But one must note that it is not a veiled threat, it is a direct attempt to further marginalise trans communities and trans people.

If queer people are not doing all they can to fight something that is blatantly discriminatory, then how can they expect to tackle numerous, well-masked, ill-intentioned aggressions at the workplace, in educational institutions, housing facilities, and other such public and private spaces?

Minorities, Stand Up For One Another

As queer people who are fighting for rights and for access to opportunities in a democratic country, they can’t afford to be exclusionary in their politics without being hypocritical. They mustn’t adopt the methods of the colonial oppressors (divide and rule) to express dissent. Instead, there is a need for minorities to stand for each other, with each other, especially in the current socio-political climate. Intersectionality is important because it helps us to understand the multiple layers to the discrimination a particular individual or community might have to battle. Overlapping identities is a reality for many. An individual is composed of their age, sex, body, gender identity, sexual orientation, caste, skin colour, class, religion, education, family, political affiliations, city, country, state among other things.

Addressing some aspects of a person’s queerness but ignoring the rest of them is akin to treating them like fragmented individuals with neat, little problems that can be easily compartmentalised. One must fully engage with these problems that confront them, in the endeavour to reach logical, meaningful solutions. To paraphrase Audre Lorde, one is not free while any person is unfree, even when their shackles are very different from one’s own.

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